Arbitrator Ronald Hoh’s September 17, 2012 decision awarding the Washoe County Deputy Sheriff’s Association a 3.125% across the board wage increase is here. Hoh selected the union’s proposal over the County’s proposal for a 3.4% base wage reduction.
The decision is noteworthy for the fact that it awards a pay increase despite the fact that the economy is in shambles and the other Washoe bargaining units had been making concessions. Also noteworthy is the arbitrator’s stunning assertion that in deciding that the County could afford the raises he considered the fact that County could have implemented a new tax but in the past had refused to do so. (See pages 27 and 31). Opining that because the County never explained why the tax could not be implemented the County was merely shying away from a “unpleasant” political decision. It is true that making largely unemployed citizens pay a new tax so deputies can get 3.125% raises would be “unpleasant” for the County Commission.
Here are some points worth noting:
- The arbitrator did concede that an employer can defend against a proposed wage increase where it can show that “vital programs” are clearly threatened. (See page 27).
- The County’s ending fund balance exceeded budget by $4.16 million. (See page 29).
- The County’s movement of $19 million into a fund for payment of retiree health benefits was not legally required therefore that was money that could fund raises. The arbitrator conceded that funding of the future liability would be “prudent”, but he declined to say what level would be prudent. (See page 30).
- The County historically over estimates expenses when budgeting. (See page 27). No discussion by the arbitrator regarding the fact that agencies must submit balanced budgets and that if they did the opposite and underestimated expenses they would either be failing to pay bills, cut services on short notice or spend more than budgeted, (and the person doing the spending would go jail). Concessions by other bargaining units are not very relevant according to Hoh. External comparability is the most relevant and is “market driven”. (See page 41).
- Any inequities between the bargaining units have been agreed to by the employer over time. (See page 42). However, the arbitrator did hint that if county had historically treated all the bargaining units exactly the same, that pattern might be more relevant. (See page 52).
- Inequities between the bargaining units are also caused by the fact that non public safety unions don’t get binding arbitration and are therefore “helpless” after impasse. (See page 42). This is factually wrong—the arbitrator ignored NRS 288.200 paragraph 6 which permits any union to ask that the fact finder’s report be binding on the parties.
- Stunning: spending more on the deputies’ may negatively impact the morale of other County employees but will not negatively impact existing public service to the community. Just the opposite—the raises will improve public service because deputies will have improved morale. Happier deputies are better deputies. Hard to argue with that!
Of course the County’s case had some problems:
- The County Manager sent an email to employees painting perhaps too rosy a picture of the County’s finances. (See page 29-30).
- The Sheriff himself testified as a witness for the union that the deputies’ wage and benefit package had ranked last or nearly last among the nearby entities. The arbitrator decided that the wage and benefit package resulted in a significant recruitment and retention problem for the County. (See page 49-50).
The upcoming legislature is likely to again consider changes to NRS 288–this decision is likely to spur proposed amendments.